Eels A Staple In USPHL
FLORIDA HOCKEY LIFE MAGAZINE FEATURES THE USPHL: FLORIDA DIVISION A FERTILE TRAINING GROUND BY STEVE LEE / FLORIDA HOCKEY LIFE, 10/10/18,
The following was printed in part in the October 2018 print edition of Florida Hockey Life Magazine, published at the end of September. .
The dream of Florida hockey players and their families has always been staying in Florida and playing youth hockey at
the highest level.
That dream is a reality. The USPHL offers these players some of the best coaching available along with great competition. The stigma of Florida not having good hockey has been put to rest.
Great players at all levels have emerged from the Sunshine State.
College teams throughout the country now have Florida players on their rosters, as do NHL teams.
A scout once told me, “if you can play, we’ll find you.”
Like the rest of the United States Premier Hockey League, the Florida Division lures junior hockey players from near and far. While more and more players from Florida fill the rosters of those Premier and Elite teams, the division still draws from other states, as well as internationally.
The reason is simple, really. Organizers and players concur that the USPHL ranks as the top junior hockey program when it comes to developing players for the college level.
And that, they say, is why the league is thriving.
Overall, the USPHL includes multiple junior levels for players ranging in age from 16-20. It consists of 89 organizations nationwide. In 2017, the USPHL added a high-level, tuition free junior league called the National Collegiate Development Conference. The NCDC is at the top of a three tier system that includes the Premier and Elite Divisions.
“The number one priority of our league is development towards college,” said Frank Scarpaci. Scarpaci is the founder of the Florida Eels, who started at the Ellenton facility in Bradenton, and now are based in Fort Myers. He is also the South Regional Commissioner for the USPHL Premier and Elite Divisions.
“The USPHL has placed more players in Divisions I, II and III than any other Tier III league,” said Scarpaci. “If players want to play college hockey, they come here. They get tremendous training, great visibility and exposure; and they get into college.”
The Eels, who started 15 years ago in another league but were part of a 2013 merger with the USPHL, are among a handful of programs in Florida. The others are: the DME Swamp Rabbits in Daytona, Florida Junior Blades in Estero, Palm Beach Junior Hawks in Lake Worth, and Tampa Bay Juniors in Wesley Chapel.
“The Eels are among the leaders in the country in college placement in Tier III hockey. Ranking at the top are the Islanders Hockey Club, the Junior Bruins, the New Jersey Hitmen, the South Shore Kings, the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, the Northern Cyclones and other clubs in the NCDC,” Scarpaci said. “Junior hockey in Florida is very, very strong.”
Actually, the Eels have placed 18 players in colleges this past year with a half-dozen of them from Florida. Those scholarships average more than $25,000.
Florida-born Clayton Boyd, now a sophomore at Division III Neumann University in Philadelphia, is a testament to the Eels program. The 21-year-old, who grew up playing hockey in south Florida since he was 5, is grateful for Scarpaci’s efforts in helping him land a scholarship.
“He’s the best in moving guys on to college,” said Boyd, who counts former Eels Zac Boyle, a sophomore, and freshman Brandon Rosario as his college teammates.
“I tell our guys, ‘You earn it by doing the extra things,’” Scarpaci said. “We tell kids it’s all about going to college. We’re not all about getting kids into the National Hockey League. If that happens, that’s frosting on the cake.”
The Eels are not just hockey players, they are entrenched into the community under the guidance of Scarpaci, who has had them help out with food drives, read to schoolchildren and raise funds for a young cancer patient.
“I liked that a lot,” Boyd said of getting involved in community projects. “It helped the team bond.”
“The goal here is for our kids to become great citizens and that’s really, really important,” Scarpaci said. “Our team building is helping people in the community.”